The 3D graphic adventure game Dark Earth contains one of the more compelling storylines to come along in quite some time and the environments and surroundings depicted in the gorgeous art complements that story very nicely. The basic tale is one of survival in a world turned dark by a natural catastrophe that plunged Earth into a new dark age early in the 21st century.
Set three centuries in the future, you play as Arkhan in a world where light is both a luxury and precious commodity. Not surprisingly, history has been lost to the inhabitants of this stark future world and many now believe the darkness to be an ancient curse. As Arkhan, a member of the Guardians of Fire (whose mission is to protect the leaders of the newly emerged religion of Sun God worship), while aborting an assassination attempt of the Sunseer Lory, you are transformed into one of the very mutated creatures you've always fought against. You are then faced with not only curing yourself of this dreaded affliction but also discovering the truth behind mankind's current plight and insidious encroaching disease that threatens to destroy what little remains of civilized society.
Like any great mystery story, all the twists and turns of the deep plot are revealed slowly as Arkhan fights his way to the truth. Through puzzle solving, a great deal of interaction with non-player characters and lots of combat (an area in the game that could stand some improvement) you eventually focus in on the threat. Game play is a dream, as the interface smoothly gets you from place to place and screen to static screen (no scrolling action). However, the stunning graphics which showcase the game's three year development are so captivating you find yourself content to move within each screen, exploring and generally uncovering clues, speaking with inhabitants and simply basking in the richly rendered environment.
Beyond the awkward control experienced during combat, the game's only other significant flaw is the outdated and annoying game saving function that requires you to find "saving locations" within the game (a pet peeve). Cautionary moral here is quite simple, namely, don't commit to playing unless you can be sure you have enough time to reach the next save point. Other than those shortcomings, Dark Earth provides a rewarding and immersive gaming experience.
Game play in Dark Earth is deceptively linear in that even though you have the freedom to move the character any where you want, the story doesn't really advance until you procure certain items, talk to certain NPCs or perform specific mini-quests. In that respect the game isn't all that different than other graphic adventures that give you alternate routes to reach specific objectives. One nice feature that sets up replay possibilities is the way the story evolves based on the sometimes moral decisions you have to make as Arkhan as many are difficult and have a big impact on the story. If solid game play, a detailed and carefully crafted adventure, and a compelling story appeal to you, then Dark Earth is worth a look.
Graphics: Beautifully rendered environment from backgrounds to NPCs. The credits list six people devoted to cut scenes which constitute a major plus in the game, both from an esthetic point of view and emotional appeal. Wonderful stuff.
Sound: Only a cut above average.
Enjoyment: Dark Earth is that rare gem of a game that evokes the intangible feeling of being involved in the story. Before it's over, you'll care about what happens to Arkhan and his struggle to rid the already dark world of an even worse fate. Beautifully crafted story.
Replay Value: Better rating than what the normal graphic adventure receives. You may want to eventually go through the game a second time to see what transpires when you change your decisions.
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